Paper Mario returns in another adventure, this time for the Nintendo 3DS handheld. Taking place in a world crafted entirely out of paper, the pop-icon plumber has to save Decalburg from the evil efforts of his arch-nemesis Bowser. With an updated turn-based gameplay mechanic and a more expressive, vibrant world as the setting, the latest Paper Mario title is one to hold to.
The title is the result of Intelligent Systems, who developed the game and brought an extremely creative and entertaining world for players to explore. The plot itself reads as a children’s story, with Bowser interrupting the ‘Sticker Fest’ by fracturing the ‘Sticker Comet’ in an explosion that causes stickers and comet fragments to spread out over the world. Of course it’s Mario’s job to retrieve them and once again restore peace to the Mushroom Kingdom. The story, like the colorful artwork, may seem childish but the gameplay invoked the same wonderment and admiration that I felt with larger Mario titles.
[quote_left]Although this game does feature a turn-based gameplay mechanic, it’s noting like an RPG. No experience or levels or stats, just stickers..so many stickers.[/quote_left]Everything about the game was bright, light-hearted and entertaining. From the enemies you encounter in the 3D landscape, to the use of the stickers that you set out to collect. One of the more obvious decisions that Intelligent Systems made in this title, was the return of turn-based gameplay. Although this game does feature a turn-based gameplay mechanic, it’s noting like an RPG. No experience or levels or stats, just stickers..so many stickers. You obtain these stickers in a lot of creative ways, you can find them in stores or you can get them as rewards for defeating enemies and even peel them right off the world you are exploring. Some are found tucked away in secret locations, which is entire adventure in its own right. Stickers are your weapons as well, you use them in-turn as your attacks during battle. You don’t hoard stickers either, you pick one up and use it within a battle or a blocked passage, then you kiss it goodbye. This added a bit of strategy to the battles and using one of your favorite stickers can be rewarding or regretful.
The battle system is more carefree then you may expect, this isn’t exactly a strategy based game. At no point during the regular battles did I feel like I really had to cleverly outwit the game to succeed. This whimsical battle system fit in well with the theme of the game though and using stickers on a string of baddies was still fun and enjoyable. The stickers that you collect for battle-moments will enable you to do actions for your turn of attack. These action-stickers can be; using iconic flowers, getting more HP from mushrooms or even hurling shells in classic Mario form.
You can collect a limited amount of stickers at one-time during the the game. Each one will take up a slot, that slot will become free when you use that particular sticker. This added a fun dimension to the game and kept me from just recklessly picking up stickers, or overpowering anything that the game threw at me. I had to balance out my sticker collection to be prepared for any type of enemy scenario. I had attack stickers, defense and buffer stickers and stickers that I hated to use unless I was up against a boss. Different enemies had unique defenses for my attacks as well, and timing out which sticker to use on the next enemy in line was challenging but not annoying. It’s a simple mechanic to pick up on and one that added a level of complexity to what is essentially a very simple battle-system.
That’s really the heart of the game, taking the simplest mechanics or story and making it fun and entertaining by adding new elements and surprises for the player to discover. The story is simple yet engrossing, the battle system is easily mastered but still offers unique moments of strategy and the enemies are cleverly designed to prevent you from powering through the game.
What really drives the game is the paper-craft world that you set out to explore. Again a simple system of linear levels is brought to life with hidden locations filled with important stickers and desirable upgrades. Other stickers decorating the scenery would catch my eye from time-to-time and I would work my way around just to get to them. Classic Mario elements like secret rooms or hidden passageways offer exciting reveals and hidden rewards, though often times the rewards are stickers….so many stickers. The game really did a fantastic job with the sticker system, which if done improperly would have caused some real disasters. You only have a limited sticker-inventory as I said before, but without stickers you are helpless to attack anything. The game really did a great job with supplying, and depleting, my sticker arsenal and I always had a reason to take an extra moment and really explore my surroundings as I made my way to the next level.
[quote_left]The game really did a fantastic job with the sticker system, which if done improperly would have caused some real disasters.[/quote_left]The only downfall of ‘Paper Mario: Sticker Star’ is how it really lets you play the game any way you want. Without warning an enemy that requires a unique sticker to defeat it might pop-up, and without the proper sticker-defense or sticker-attack, you really don’t have a chance. These individual difficult moments can’t really be planned, more than once I would reach a point where I knew I was doomed to fail and would have to come back better prepared with the right stickers in hand. Simple foreshadowing or clever hints would have prevented this from happening, instead you more or less ‘learn as you go’ and some moments will cause frustration and retries.
The paper-craft world would sometimes lean towards the realistic, with standard physics and dimensions taking place. Then at times it would it would casually remind you of its paper-form by allowing you to flatten out the world, or use certain stickers to manipulate your surroundings. These little moments ‘break the fourth wall’ with the title and offer clever little distractions while keeping the amusing theme of the game alive.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star came off as an extremely creative casual game, nothing too difficult but more detailed and more captivating than I expected. The puzzles were fun to play and using the real-world elements inside the ‘story-book life’ of Paper Mario really gave the game a new dimension, and everything about the title was enjoyable. The boss-fights that required certain stickers did cause a lot of frustration at times, as did some of the game’s larger levels that asked for specific actions to be found within the large landscape but the overall gameplay wasn’t stained from it. What you will find is a wide-array of unique game mechanics set inside a simple story. It’s a game that capitalized on simplicity and created something uniquely fun to play.